Vince Sibbald and his late wife, Margaret, have lived on the same block of land in Winmalee, in the Blue Mountains, for 50 years.
In October 2013, their house of 42 years was destroyed alongside hundreds of others during bushfires that ravaged parts of the Blue Mountains including Springwood, Mount Victoria and Yellow Rock.
During their recovery, Catholic Care Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains were amongst the organisations that provided support to the Sibbalds and other fire-affected residents, having recently opened a Drop-In Centre on the main street of Springwood.
“Both Margaret and I went along as we both needed a bit of counselling. They helped us and became friends, rather than us being clients,” Vince told Catholic Outlook.
“We didn’t need a lot of financial help, but Catholic Care was there to give us the moral support that was necessary during this tough time.
“With the help of people like Catholic Care supporting us, we didn’t get into the depths of despair – we focused on the positives rather than the negatives.”
Whist the couple were living in Glenmore Park as their house was being rebuilt, they kept popping in to the Drop-In Centre to have a cup of coffee and a chat about how things were going.
“It was important to keep connected to our Catholic community during this time, which was our parish and with Catholic Care,” Vince said.
In a plan to reunite and heal the community following the bushfires, Margaret sought the assistance of Catholic Care to help build a community garden, which sits on half an acre of land between St Thomas Aquinas Primary School and St Columba’s Catholic College, Springwood.
The community garden includes a permaculture food forest with 50 fruit trees, two worm farms, a bush tucker space and a yarning circle. The primary school and the local Moochy Family Day Care group have garden beds where they grow their own plants.
The gardens are open to all, with experienced gardeners volunteering their time to teach beginners and to participate in twice-weekly working bees to take home and share the fresh, organic harvest with the community.
“I healed myself with gardening and thought it would work for the community too,” Margaret wrote in a 2020 article for Catholic Outlook. “Since gardening was so healing for me, I thought a community garden would be healing for others. Sharing food also brings people together, which is really important.”
Vince explained, “The help we got from Catholic Care for doing that was amazing. Without them, we would not have got it going.
“Margaret had spoken to the parish priest [Fr Paul Slyney, St Thomas Aquinas Parish, Springwood], and Catholic Care continued working on it alongside the Diocese of Parramatta who donated the land.
“Catholic Care helped fulfil Marg’s dream,” he said.
Following Margaret’s death in 2020, the family planted two nashi pear trees in her honour in the community garden during a ceremony in February 2021. They sit alongside a plaque that recognises her contribution to the garden that is “for all to enjoy.”
“We’re honoured to be able to remember Margaret this way,” Catholic Care Manager, Community Engagement Celia Vagg told Catholic Outlook following the ceremony in 2021. “Her vision inspired us all and the gardens, which mean so much to so many people, would not exist without her.”
Vince is appreciative of the work that Catholic Care still does in the local community with the homeless, people with disabilities and those who may be struggling. Due to his own health issues, he has been unable to visit the Centre during COVID, but is excited to drop in again when he can.
“Although Catholic Care have been here for a short amount of time, they support and work alongside other organisations in helping the community.
“Catholic people are supposed to look after each other, meaning all people, and that is one of the key parts of being Catholic. I think this really helps Catholic Care stand out.
“If you think you need help, go and talk to them, because there’s every possibility that what your need is, they will be able to help you by either doing it themselves or finding someone else. The support they offer is there for everyone.
“When I get old,” he chuckles, “I might need to call on them again.”
Your compassionate gift to the Bishop’s Good Samaritan Appeal will allow Catholic Care to reach more of our neighbours who are socially isolated and in need of support.
To donate, please call (02) 8838 3482 or visit yourcatholicfoundation.org.au/ appeal-neighbours
If you’d like to volunteer and help Catholic Care support lonely and isolated seniors, please call Celia Vagg – Manager, Community Engagement on (02) 8843 2500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org